How police in England can now stop basically any protest

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Original article republished from openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

New anti-protest legislation forced through by Suella Braverman has been labelled “unlawful”

Adam Ramsay

15 June 2023, 3.55pm

A Just Stop Oil protest in central London
Suella Braverman forced through new anti-protest laws after slow-marching demonstrations from Just Stop Oil activists in London

At midnight last night, the right to protest in England and Wales became a matter of police discretion.

Yesterday, the police could restrict or stop a protest to prevent it causing either “serious public disorder, serious damage to property, or significant and prolonged disruption to the life of the community”.

Those powers already allowed plenty of room for interpretation, but from today the threshold is even lower. This week, home secretary Suella Braverman forced through new laws in a way never seen before in the UK. Here’s what you need to know.

What are the new police powers targeting protests?

Changes to the Public Order Act mean police can now restrict or stop a protest if they believe it could cause “more than minor disruption to the life of the community”. They have the power to arrest anyone taking part in a protest, or even anyone encouraging others to take part.

Officers are also now required to consider “cumulative disruption” from protest, even if the protests in question are organised by different people and about different issues. And the definition of “community” has been changed to include anyone affected by a protest, not just people who live or work in the area it’s happening in.

“The regulations also say the police will be required to take into account all relevant disruption. For example, if there are regular traffic jams in the area, that would have to be taken into account [when the police decide whether to ban a protest], even if it had nothing to do with the protest”, Jodie Beck, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty told openDemocracy.

Braverman argued the new laws were needed to target slow-marching protests from climate activists Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion.

What do they mean?

In reality, the police could find a way to argue that any protest meets the threshold for imposing restrictions, if they wanted to. The new law, says Beck, is a “huge expansion of police powers” that could also lead to police allowing some protests to go ahead while imposing restrictions on others, simply based on how the officers felt about the message behind them.

While the government has focused on one particular type of protest – slow-marching – all protests are potentially impacted.

Beck gives the example of striking railway workers and their supporters holding a rally outside a train station. The police “could decide that means a more than minor disruption to people’s travel,” and so ban the gathering, and arrest anyone taking part.

It could even be that police officers rule that a picket line causes “more than minor” disruption to the workplace it is picketing – after all, that’s the point.

But it’s not just the new laws which have shocked experts. It’s also how they came about this week.

How did the new laws restricting protests get passed?

Originally, Suella Braverman tried to sneak the new legislation into the Public Order Act, which passed earlier this year and came into effect just before the coronation. Rather than allowing these changes to face the usual scrutiny in the House of Commons, the home secretary had them added as last minute amendments to the bill in the House of Lords, after MPs had already voted on it. Her attempt failed – the Lords thought these measures were too draconian and voted them down, though they approved the broader new bill.

Undeterred, Braverman turned to a constitutional trick that’s never been used before. Because while new bills – known as ‘primary legislation’ – require line-by-line scrutiny in both houses, various laws already on the statute book give ministers powers to make small changes via something called ‘secondary legislation’. And secondary legislation doesn’t get nearly as much scrutiny, with both the Commons and Lords simply voting for or against.

The home secretary argued that another act passed last year by then-home secretary Priti Patel – the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act – already gave her the power to make these changes via secondary legislation. So that’s what she did this week, making it the first time ever that a government has used secondary legislation to push through a measure that had already been voted down by parliament.

The secondary legislation passed through the Commons on Monday, with the Tories taking full advantage of their majority. In the Lords, Green peer Jenny Jones filed a highly unusual fatal motion, a rare procedure used to try and kill off the passage of a bill. Normally, because it’s an unelected house, the Lords tweaks legislation passed by the Commons, but doesn’t ultimately vote it down. Jones argued that, because the government was bringing back a law which had already been voted down by parliament through a route which requires almost no scrutiny, this should be an exception.

Labour, although they complained about Braverman’s shenanigans, refused to back Jones, and abstained on the motion, meaning it passed. Police, Crime and Fire minister Chris Philp then enacted the new measures from midnight last night (secondary legislation doesn’t need royal assent). And so now, the police can shut down any protest they like.

The story doesn’t end there. Liberty is taking the government to court, calling the move “unlawful” and arguing that it broke many of the basic principles of the British constitution.

What do human rights campaigners say?

Katy Watts, a lawyer at Liberty, accused the government of “putting itself above the law” and said the move gives police “almost unlimited powers to stop any protest the government doesn’t agree with”.

And Beck believes we need to see this in the context of a much broader attack on our democratic rights. Noisy protests have been banned. The government is already attacking the right to strike, making it easier for bosses to sack people who vote to withdraw their labour. They’ve made it harder to vote, and harder to challenge them in the courts.

“Even if you’ve never been to a protest, you never know when you might need to,” she said.

With the new laws, there is a growing chance you’ll be arrested if you do.

Original article republished from openDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingHow police in England can now stop basically any protest

Left Foot Forward

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Catching up with articles published by Left Foot Forward, an excellent UK political blog.

Government caved to wealthy landowner lobbying in U-turn on public path access

Thérèse Coffey gave landowners what they wanted, putting at risk public access to thousands of miles of historic paths

Public access to thousands of miles of historic paths in England could be lost due to a government U-turn, following successful lobbying by wealthy landowners.

An investigation by openDemocracy found Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, U-turned on a government commitment to remove restrictions on registering a claim to protect lost paths in England, after receiving a letter from landowners.

Via a freedom of information request, openDemocracy revealed that Thérèse Coffey’s U-turn came after a request was made by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), who represent owners of rural land, property and business.

The letter expressed ‘concerns’ about the complete removal of the cut-off date due to land managers ‘uncertainty’ over what they referred to as, ‘frivolous claims of historic rights on their land holdings’.

The letter then asks the MP to consider a new deadline of 2031, shortly followed by Coffey announcing the government U-turn, which appeased the landowners request. It seems it didn’t take much to sway the minister in the interests of the wealthy, at the expense of the general public.

Labour has failed to stand against the Tories’ attack on the right to protest

Image of Keir Starmer sucking up to the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum, Davos
Image of Keir Starmer sucking up to the rich and powerful at the World Economic Forum, Davos

Green Party peer Jenny Jones gives her account of the parliamentary battles over the Tories’ protest laws

Last night, the Labour Party made a disastrous misjudgement that will impact on hundreds of thousands of people attempting to protest and exercise their democratic rights in the coming years. By failing to support my Fatal Motion that would have stopped serious disruption being defined as anything “more than minor” Labour have managed to alienate lots of their natural supporters. 

Many of the 64,000 people who signed the petition asking them to act like an opposition, are now wondering why Labour let them down and why the media don’t report this stuff?

Perhaps Labour felt that they could sit this one out and no one would really care. After all, political journalists and media organisations like the BBC very rarely report on anything that isn’t a Blue/Red clash. So many issues and viewpoints are excluded simply because they don’t fit this cosy Blue/Red duopoly. The narrative was that if Labour wasn’t backing the Fatal Motion then it wasn’t worth reporting on and all my attempts to generate coverage were met with silence, with the honourable exception of James O’Brien on LBC and the Guardian.

What Labour under estimated is the power of social media and influential commentators like Carol Vorderman and Marina Purkiss. The Vlogger, Peter Stefanovic reached over a million people with his first video outlining what was going on. He explained the constitutional issues in a way that the BBC’s one attempt at coverage failed completely to understand, as our state media bought the government narrative that this was a law aimed at Just Stop Oil.

Meanwhile, Labour’s regret motion, a loud tut tut in parliamentary terms, led to a Daily Mail front page attacking them for supporting Just Stop Oil. The result is that many voters see them as a pointless and feeble opposition, while the government label them as on the side of disruption.

 Left Foot Forward News

Post-Brexit border charges will further increase food prices, industry leaders warn

The Government has made clear its intention to implement full border checks on food imports from this October.

There could be further increases in food prices yet, even after UK food and drink price inflation hit a 45-year record of 19.2 per cent in March, as a result of new border checks caused by Brexit.

It comes after the UK government this week published proposals to charge a flat-rate inspection fee of up to £43 on each consignment of food coming from the EU.

The decision to impose full border checks on food imports from the bloc, will hit smaller firms harder, industry leaders have warned.

Shane Brennan, the director of the Cold Chain Federation, told the Financial Times that the proposals made little sense, especially given that the government was actively discussing imposing price controls on UK supermarkets to keep down the cost of food.

He said: “It is crazy that one week the government is holding a crisis meeting in Downing Street to discuss out-of-control food inflation and the next is willing to nod through a multimillion new import tax on EU food imports.”

Former Eton Master admits ‘failure’ in educating ‘entitled’ Tories

Image of Oxford's Bullingdon Club including Boris Johnson
Oxford’s Bullingdon Club including Boris Johnson

‘They have harmed the ‘very fabric of the country’.

Finally, someone has called a spade a spade. A former Master of Eton College has admitted that the school failed to rein in entitled Tories such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kwasi Kwarteng, whose sense of entitlement has harmed the ‘very fabric of the country’.

In a scathing letter to the Times, John Claughton, who was a master at Eton from 1984 to 2001, said that the school, which has educated 20 Prime Ministers, now had a mission to ‘ensure that its pupils are saved from the sense of privilege, entitlement and omniscience that can produce alumni such as Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Kwasi Kwarteng and Ben Elliot and thereby damage a country’s very fabric.’

Claughton goes on to add: “Sadly, I failed in that purpose.”

The Sun forgets its owner’s taste for luxury travel in dig at Rachel Reeves’ business class flight to US

The newspaper didn’t dwell on Rupert Murdoch owning an $84 million private jet.

In a week dominated by yet more Tory sleaze and scandals, the right-wing media must have been desperate to dish some dirt on the shadow cabinet. Sure enough, The Sun came up with the goods, taking aim at Rachel Reeves’ trip to the US in business class.

The Murdoch-owned newspaper did not hold back in reporting that the Shadow Chancellor had been accused of hypocrisy for ‘taking the posh seat while attacking Rishi Sunak and the government for luxury travel.’ Reeves informed the newspaper that no taxpayer money was used to fund the trip, and that a donor paid for it. 

This in itself contrasts to the Prime Minister’s luxury travel which has been funded by the taxpayer. In March, Sunak decided to travel to Southampton and back to London by air rather than by car or train. The PM’s official spokesman confirmed that the helicopter trip was funded by the taxpayer.  Even the Sun had to reference the criticism the Prime Minister came under for the taxpayer-funded helicopter flight to Southampton.

… [Read more to get to Murdoch’s jet]

Continue ReadingLeft Foot Forward

German authorities conduct series of raids to investigate climate activists

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Police officers carry a cardboard box to a vehicle during a raid in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

GERMAN authorities raided 15 properties across the country and seized assets in an investigation into the financing of protests by the Last Generation climate activist group, prosecutors said today.

Munich prosecutors said they were investigating seven people on suspicion of forming or supporting a criminal organisation.

They launched the inquiry following numerous criminal complaints they received since mid-2022.

Members of Last Generation have repeatedly blocked roads across Germany in an effort to press the government to take more drastic action against climate change.

In recent weeks, they have brought the traffic to a halt on an almost daily basis in Berlin, glueing themselves to busy intersections and highways.

Over the past year, they have also targeted various artworks and exhibits.

Continue ReadingGerman authorities conduct series of raids to investigate climate activists

Mick Lynch: ‘Democracy in this country is in a lot of trouble’

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Standing in a sunny Parliament Square surrounded by a colourful mix of trade union flags, Mick Lynch spoke to LFF about the troubling state of democracy in Britain.

The RMT general secretary was a speaker at the emergency protest organised ahead of the final Parliament vote on the anti-strike legislation, Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill.

For Lynch, the anti-strike legislation comes under a broader attempt by the Tory government to clamp down on any kind of opposition, warning that a threat to trade union power is a threat to democracy.

“The government has got an attitude towards anything they don’t agree with, any kind of dissent. It could be politically or more broadly socially, where if they don’t agree with people, they try to ban them,” said Lynch.

“We got these police bills and these counter-demonstration bills where people will be stopped from demonstrating or protesting.

“We saw that during the coronation, one of the most passive pieces of civil disobedience if you like, was banned in effect and people were put in jail for the day.

“They’re trying to clamp down on any dissent, and I think that’s a very troubling state, and it’s time for the British people to wake up to that and see that if trade unions, which are an organic part of life and grow in every society, if they’re not allowed to function properly, democracy in this country is in a lot of trouble.

“We’ve got to make sure that people are out opposing that and we’ve got to make sure that people understand the issues.

Continue ReadingMick Lynch: ‘Democracy in this country is in a lot of trouble’